Aaron Hamburger
Whatever it Takes
Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Wrote a Novel about Israel, p.2

I still held out hope that Prime Minister Barak could go to Camp David and make everything all better, though during the weekend before his trip to the States, his government hung by a thread. The night of the no-confidence vote in the Knesset, the streets were empty as everyone stayed home to see if Barak would survive. He did, just barely, and that very evening got on a plane to Washington.

For the next week, the newspapers and TV were filled with the latest rumors from Camp David. I got caught up in the fever. One evening in Tel Aviv, in a café that was later bombed by terrorists, a professor with contacts in the government told me, “I hear something is cooking over there. We are going to have permanent peace. Barak is the new Ben-Gurion.” Those words may seem delusional now, but at the time they seemed just the other side of possible.

Stop to imagine what might have been, had Camp David succeeded. Would 9/11 have happened? Or the war in Iraq?

During that sultry summer, I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I’d been trying for weeks to find material for a novel about gay life in Israel and failing. The gay community of Israel, while not without its problems, had more legal rights than their counterparts in the States had at the time: no discrimination in the military or the workforce and no sodomy laws on the books. The biggest obstacle to being openly gay in Israel was how tightly knit the country was, which meant no chance for anonymity and the freedom to experiment anonymity provides. As one gay person told me, no matter where you went in Israel, you always knew someone who knew someone’s aunt’s cousin from the army. (I learned this firsthand when I began running into people I knew after only three days in Jerusalem.)

My biggest problem, however, was that in the summer of 2000 the gay community, like everyone else in Israel, had much bigger fish to fry. A novel about gay life in Israel without mentioning the Palestinian issue would have meant writing science fiction.

So I gave up my idea of writing about Israel and became a tourist. I visited a friend staying at the Hilton while chaperoning a Singles’ Mission to Israel. I toured the City of David Archeological Park and got lost in Hezekiah’s water tunnel. I mingled with the teenagers wandering down the pedestrian mall of Ben Yehuda Street at night and overheard a young man in a backwards baseball cap express his desire for a hot Israeli girlfriend despite the fact that he didn’t speak Hebrew: “Sha-LOM! That’s all the Hebrew I need!” And one afternoon toward the end of my trip, I took a moment to sit near the Western Wall and reflect on the time and money I’d wasted. Beside me sat a middle-aged couple from America. The husband turned to his wife and asked, “So has this trip been a meaningful experience for you?”

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Image: Gilad Efrat, Jerusalem 1999 (Detail)

February 2005

In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart
Jay Michaelson

Whatever it Takes
Aaron Hamburger

The Merchant of Venice and the New Ruling Class
Karin Roffman

James Lee Byars & the number Ten
Abi Cohen

Two Incidents at the Café Kamienica
Gordon Haber

Jacob said to an angel, Tell me your Name
Abraham Mezrich

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From previous issues:

Retrato de Familia
Bara Sapir

The Aesthetics of Power
Michael Shurkin

Abba Kovner: The Warrior in Old Age
James Russell